Obituary: Denys Andrews CBE, Past President of The Law Society of Scotland

Denys Andrews
Denys Andrews
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William Denys Cathcart Andrews CBE, WS, Solicitor, Past President of The Law Society of Scotland. Born: 3 June 1931 in Knockusion House, Girvan. Died: 1 July 2019 in Auchairne, Ballantrae, Ayrshire, aged 88

Denys Andrews was one of the foremost Scottish solicitors of his generation. A past president of the Law Society of Scotland and a member of the Lands Tribunal for Scotland, he was for nearly 30 years a partner of Shepherd & Wedderburn WS and played a major part in the introduction of the system of land registration in Scotland which is now in operation throughout the country.

Denys was born on 3 June 1931, the fourth son of Eugene Andrews, solicitor, Girvan, and his wife Agnes Armstrong.

He was educated at Girvan Academy, Worksop College in Nottinghamshire and the University of Edinburgh, where he graduated Bachelor of Law in 1950. He then served two years’ National Service, stationed in Hamburg for most of that time.

Following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps he served his apprenticeship in Shepherd & Wedderburn. Having established an early reputation as a gifted conveyancer, he was assumed as a partner in the firm in 1962 and rapidly built up a wide general practice, with an emphasis on conveyancing and property law.

For many years he was also closely involved in the management of the firm and in many ways laid the early groundwork for its success in later years. He was admitted as a Writer to the Signet in 1964. In 1987 he was elected to the office-bearing post of Fiscal (law agent) to the WS Society, in which he served until his retirement in 1991.

Denys was elected a council member of the Law Society of Scotland in 1972 and he rapidly made his mark. Kenneth Pritchard, Secretary (chief executive) of the Society at the time, said “Denys was anxious to get things done.

“He became convenor of the conveyancing committee and of the advisory committee on registration of title. He also became convenor of the guarantee fund committee, which was one of the Society’s most important committees, charged with protecting the interests of clients in an era when the Society was fully self-regulating.

“In that role he was also responsible for pioneering the introduction of new and tougher accounts rules for solicitors”.

He was elected vice president of the Law Society in 1977 and a year later he became its president. Pritchard remembers that he had an industrious and very hands-on approach as president: “He was rarely flustered at council meetings but if he became irritated he would pick up his pipe and slowly light it. That was the signal to fall into line.”

In recognition of his contribution to the law of Scotland Denys was appointed CBE in the 1980 New Year honours.

It was after he stepped down as Law Society president that Denys made perhaps his most important contribution to the law, in 1981 working on behalf of the Law Society in close liaison with the Registers of Scotland in the introduction of the new system of registration of title.

This was by far the biggest change in conveyancing practice since the 19th century and it required the acquisition of significant new skills on the part of the profession. A joint committee of the Law Society and the Registers published a comprehensive practice book on the subject.

In the foreword, David Williamson, the Keeper of the Registers at the time, paid the following tribute: “Matters of procedure have been elaborated in a spirit of amity and co-operation [between the Law Society and the Registers] and this practice book which will help us all through the first years of our registration of title system is the fruit of our joint labours. The book will not fail for want of careful thought and painstaking discussion. The work of editing, a task of considerable magnitude, has been undertaken by Mr W.D.C. Andrews and the Registers members of the committee. All members of the committee wish to pay special tribute to Mr Andrews, for on him has fallen a great deal of the labour of re-arranging, adjusting, rewriting and questioning, to all of which he has brought his admirable qualities of mind and application.”

In 1980 Denys had been appointed a part time legal member of the Lands Tribunal for Scotland, a post he held until he retired in 1991.

Alistair MacLeary, a longstanding surveyor member of the tribunal, said: “Denys was quite a character. I remember particularly his fund of stories about his career in law, invariably expressed in great good humour. More significantly, as a conveyancer his knowledge of property law was remarkable, and his intelligence and considerable experience enabled him to analyse the subject and lead him unerringly to the answer”.

Despite these external commitments, Denys continued to make a significant contribution to the success of Shepherd & Wedderburn’s practice. During the 1980s he and his team acted in a number of major property transactions, such as the development of the St Enoch Centre in Glasgow.

He was the client partner for SSEB (South of Scotland Electricity Board) and played a key role in the privatisation of the electricity industry in Scotland, with input to the enabling legislation and leading to the establishment of Scottish Power.

He retired from the law in the summer of 1991.

Although Denys’s professional career was based in Edinburgh, throughout his life he retained ties with Ayrshire, with a house at Lendalfoot and retiring to Auchairne, Ballantrae, where he and his wife May lovingly restored the walled garden.

He is survived by his wife and lifelong friend May, youngest daughter of Thomas O’Beirne, Burgh Surveyor of Ayr, their four children, Caroline, Patrick, Martin and Alison, and 13 grandchildren.

Tom Drysdale